By Madison Hetzler, Crosswalk.com
Thursday evenings in our home find a group of women huddled around the coffee table, sitting on the floor with open Bibles and plates of food. Each week, our meal transports us to a different part of the world: Morocco, Germany, Jamaica. The list is ever growing.
We read bulk passages of Scripture out loud, taking turns around the room until every voice is heard. There might be a little one nestled in the corner, sleeping while mama studies. We ask the intimidating questions that crop up in our minds when we go over difficult verses and stories. We share praises and burdens and lift one another up before the Lord. This gathering is cherished time—a refuge burrowed into a busy week’s schedule.
Community in action is a beautiful thing. We are made to crave it, to need it like food. It provisions us to do life and do it well. It keeps us tethered to what is true and good when we are distracted or unsure. It holds up our hands when our arms tire under the weight of our tasks. It reaches around us, enveloping us in a present comfort when the storm pounds against our homes.
And yet, community can also seem elusive.
Why might this be? We may be well intentioned, but under-equipped. We, at times, have unreasonable expectations, believing community to be an organic, naturally occurring phenomenon. We are prone to think it is the culmination of like personalities and close proximity. We tend to believe we should be accepted as we are and, as a result, we lean into our default temperaments.
The truth is, the formation of community requires great effort, knowledge, and skill.
Consider these guiding principles as tools for the job at hand.
1. Grow in the Lord and in humility.
We can be quick to desire application steps without first ruminating on their source. As Christ-followers, we are not just called to obedience; we are called to come and behold the Lord’s goodness and glory. As a result of this beholding, we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit within us (2 Corinthians 3:18). Without the savoring of God, transformation is relegated to mere fleshly overtures that cannot produce eternal gain.
If we attempt to love others without growing in our love for the Lord, all of our efforts will be frustrated because we have set out to produce community with insufficient fuel. We love others because we know God first loved us (1 John 4:19). We must routinely stop to mediate on that truth.
Let humility be the gauge by which we measure our growth in the Lord. Our sin nature produces raging pride that is only quelled when it is confronted by gospel truth. The extent to which we experience growth in humility will be determined by our growth in love for the Lord and all he has done and is doing in our lives. Our best efforts at community will be supremely thwarted if humility is not continually present in our interactions. Pride divides. Humility binds together.
2. Know your own tendencies and those of the people around you.
Are you an introvert or extrovert? Do you like small talk or do you fear it like the plague? Do you like group settings or do they unsettle you? Our personalities so often set the pace for our conversations and relationships. We can easily take our natural dispositions and treat them like they are the controlled variable in nearly every social interaction—the constant that does not change.
While our personalities are important, they are a double-edged sword. They carry both strengths and weaknesses. Embracing our personalities can, at times, mean taking pride or comfort in our strengths while leaning into our weaknesses as unchangeable staples.
This dangerous tendency is offset when we seek to be aware of our weaknesses and, rather than embrace them, forsake them. We strive in the power of the Holy Spirit to put off our old self and put on the new, embodying Christ (Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:1-17).
We are naturally inclined to give love and kindness as we would best receive it. Yet, we do not all receive care in the same way. Loving others well requires great effort. We must be ready to do the leg work of seeking to understand another’s disposition and give them personal care in the way they best recognize and internalize it. As we will all do this imperfectly, our relationships need to have reserves of humility and grace as a ready groundcover when assumption and misinterpretation spring up like weeds.
3. Build your conversation skills.
Conversation is the bedrock in nearly every relationship. Some of us will be better at it than others, but we can all improve. How often do we see our ability to generate conversation as a skill to be developed? Conversation is a discipline that should be intentionally honed. Learn to ask good questions, listen well, and share with discernment. Pursue equitable conversation time that gives everyone a voice and a place to add value. Consider conversation an opportunity to love and serve, rather than boast or outdo. Contribute with vulnerability while seeking the same in others. Be diligent in evaluating past conversations to learn how to improve them in the future.
4. Guard against unhelpful comparison, while seeking good examples.
Human beings are naturally prone to comparison. We all do it on a regular basis. We compare jobs, homes, talents, giftings, roles, families, opportunities, and personalities. The problem is what comparison so often generates within us: insecurity, pride, coveting, or boasting. These biproducts inhibit community, they don’t enhance it.
In guarding against comparison, we must remember that every resource in our universe was created by and belongs to our Creator. We are stewards. We are given different roles, different spheres of influence, and different means. We must not disdain or boast in our specific endowment, but rather handle the entirety of our lives with tremendous humility and care.
While we have great tendency to mishandle comparison, it can also inspire us and push us to become more like Christ. Jesus tells us to live in his example (John 8:31). Paul, in turn, encourages the church to follow in the example he personally set as a minister of the gospel (1 Corinthians 11:1). Look at the examples of Christ-followers in your life or in decades past. What did they do well? What can we learn from them? In what ways do they teach us to become more like Christ? We have much to learn from one another.
5. Live simply. Give freely.
Acts 2:42-47 gives us insight into the early church as they saw and savored the gospel message. In this passage, new believers came together in unity, distributed their possessions for the good of the whole, and fellowshipped over meals in their homes. They maintained gratitude for what they had been given, even as they were giving it away. In all things, they gave thanks to the Lord as their provider, their life source. As they did this, others saw the goodness of the Lord in them and came to know the Lord by their example.
We are an eternal people so easily distracted by what is temporal. Our resources, our means of comfort and stability, so often take center stage in our lives. We tend to hold onto them fiercely, prioritizing our own personal gain.
The gospel calls us to a different way of life. As we behold the Lord for who he is, our gaze shifts from what is immediately in front of us to what is of eternal value. In this shift, our resources become the tools they were intended to be all along.
- We keep our eyes open, ready to see another’s needs.
- We get close enough to meet that need.
- We do so sacrificially, not just skimming from the top.
- We learn to distinguish between what we need and what we want.
- We seek to live simply, boasting in the gospel alone (2 Corinthians 1:12).
- We tenaciously give of our time and energy, allowing our schedules to be interrupted as needs arise.
Ultimately, we trust that the Lord will continue providing for us and, in this trust, we freely give to others. Community built on this kind of generosity is startlingly powerful to all who take part and all who watch.
Community building takes work—more work than we may realize. We need to remember that there is a place for every one of us within the body of Christ. When differences seem too big, we rely on a God who reached out across an insurmountable divide to get to us on the other side. He is our example and he is our strength.
With a heart for teaching, Madison Hetzler is passionate about edifying fellow believers to be strong, confident, and knowledgeable in the Word of God. Madison graduated from Liberty University's School of Divinity and now instructs Bible courses for Grace Christian University. She cherishes any opportunity to build community around cups of coffee and platters of homemade food.
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